A Prayer of Imprecation

One of the easiest things in the world to misunderstand (and therefore to misrepresent) is the biblical pattern of imprecatory prayer. It is very easy to interpret the practice as some kind of primitive voodoo doll custom, practiced only by the petty and vindictive. But for those who are open to a very fine treatment of the subject, I would recommend John Day’s book, Crying for Justice. Over the last few years, the fact that we have prayed this way has been seized on by some of our adversaries as proof-positive that we obviously are crazed fundamentalists. But fundamentalism is the practice of absolutizing bits and pieces of Scripture. Liberalism is the absolutizing of other portions. To their credit, the fundamentalists at least knew that the death of Christ on the cross was more important than than Pharaoh offered the Israelites full employment benefits, but the fundamentalist vision is still truncated for all that. But what happens when we submissively come to tota et sola Scriptura? Imprecation is part of it. Below is a sample prayer of imprecation, so those who are wondering if a biblical Christian could ever pray this way can read through one and see for themselves. But I think that the real question needs to be presented to those Christians who never have occasion to pray this way.

 

Father of Jesus Christ, our gracious God, we cry out to You in a time of trouble. Our adversaries come at us with lies, lies that they delight to tell, fluent lies, as their father tells them, in their native language.

We pray that You would return to them seven-fold, according to all that they have done or said or hoped for, and all according to the promises of Your holy Word. Grant to them shame of face, so that they might turn back to You and seek Your name. We would not be like Jonah, resentful or afraid of Your grace to other sinners, even to those who have sinned grievously against us.

You have taught us, called us, summoned us, to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to rejoice when we are mistreated by them, and to return good for evil. We are not to return evil for evil, but rather to overcome evil with good. We accept this and rejoice in it. We know and understand that this is based on Your holy character and example—You give rain and sunlight to the righteous and unrighteous both—and that this is therefore Your standard of holiness for us, and we gladly submit to it. We therefore seek the grace to continue to love our enemies, asking You to save them. Not only would we be saved from their treachery and lies, but we ask that You would save them from their treachery and lies.

In praying this way, we ask that we would be able to distinguish sharply between those who are our personal enemies, and those who are our enemies for Your name’s sake. We pray that we would extend nothing but wholehearted grace to the former, and that we would commit the terrors of strict justice, with regard to the latter, entirely and only to You. We would not be like the disciples who, caught up in their mistaken zeal, did not know “what spirit they were of.” We would ask nothing from You in this that Your Word does not specifically invite us to ask. You are a God who keeps covenant to a thousand generations, and we are asking You to keep Your covenant word. If justice falling on the heads of our enemies is not a promise of covenant justice, Lord, we don’t want to ask for it. But if it is such a promise, we dare not refuse to ask. How long, Lord, will You leave in sin those who mistreat Your people in this way?

If it is not Your sovereign purpose to destroy them through saving grace, we pray that You would humiliate them and give them shame of face regardless. We pray that they would fall into the pit they have purposefully dug for us. We pray that You would turn all their plans and purposes upside down. Like Haman, we pray that they would be hanged on the gallows they have built for Your people. You are the judge of the whole earth; will You not do right? How long will You delay in bringing justice to the earth? Doesn’t it bother You that Your name and Your people are treated this way? We know that You are everlastingly good; why are You silent in that goodness? We know that You have promised to justify and vindicate Your people; rise up, Lord, and scatter Your enemies!

Father, we pray that You would deal with this situation. If it is Your good pleasure to deal with it through saving them, then that is what we would by far prefer, and it is what we ask for. But if it is not Your good pleasure to save them, we ask that You would cut them off in their course of sinning regardless, and that You would not allow their iniquity to come to its full measure. Set limits to Your judgment on them. We pray that You would set limits to that judgment by setting limits to their lies and treachery. We pray, Father, that You would cut them off in the midst of their sin.

We ask that You would deliver us from their snares in a way that showcases Your final and ultimate vindication and justification of us, together with all Your people. We know that we are sinners, and that many just and righteous accusations could be brought against us. For the sake of Christ, we pray that we would be justified concerning all that we have done that is wrong and wicked. But because Christ is our Protector as well as Savior, we pray that we would be vindicated and justified with regard to all that we have not done wrong. You chastise us for our sins, but that is not why these evil men and women attack us—they attack us because we love what is good, and because we trust in You.

Father, we pray that the angel of the Lord would chase them down. We pray that You would set for them a dark and slippery place, and that the angel of the Lord would persecute them there. They have hated us without any just cause at all, and they have devised all their plots without any good reason. We ask You therefore to rise up and defend us. Stand in the pass behind us, and lower Your spear against them. Turn them back from their wicked attacks. Rout them, we pray. Chase them like chaff in a stiff wind. We pray that You would string Your bow, sharpen Your sword, make ready all the instruments of death. Ordain Your arrows to fly against those who persecute the righteous. Make their mischief to roll back on their own impudent heads.

Those who hate us without cause are more than the hairs of our heads, and yet, Lord, we know that You have all those hairs numbered. You number and name, and note, their hatreds. You know our foolishness; You know our sinfulness, and You also know that our sin is not why we are being attacked. Rather it is for Your sake, and our identification with You. Let their table become poisonous to them, let it become a snare. Let their eyes be darkened, and judicial blindness fall upon them.

We pray that their eyes would be blinded by You; strike them so that they cannot see. Father, we pray that You would make their loins shake continuously, that they would be seized with fear and amazement. Pour out hot indignation all over them; take hold of them tightly in Your wrathful anger. May their dwellings become empty and desolate—for whenever You chastise anyone else, they love to pile on as though You were not there. They persecute the one that You are disciplining, and by their talk they dismay the one who is suffering under Your hand. Add iniquity to their iniquity; make a great heap of their sins. Do not let them enter into Your righteousness. Blot them out of the book of the living. Do not record their names alongside the names of the righteous.

God of our praise, do not hold Your peace. The mouths of the wicked and the mouths of the deceitful have joined in chorus together, and they are speaking against us with lying tongue. They are surrounding us with words of hatred, and they fight against us without good reason. It is because we love You that they are our adversaries, but we still give ourselves to prayer. Not only have we incurred their hostility by loving You, but we have also loved them, and have been treacherously betrayed by them. They returned evil for good, and hatred for love, ingratitude for kindness.

Let these wicked men come under the rule and reign of wicked men. Let Satan be continually at their right hand, accusing them. When they come into judgment, when the trial comes, we pray that the verdict of guilty would be rendered. When they cry out to You, let their prayers be reckoned as sinful. When they pray to You, let the ceiling above them remain silent. Cut short their days. When they have abused offices within Your Church, let other faithful men rise up to take their place.

Let their children be orphaned, cut off without a father. Let their wives be widows, and we pray that their children would be desolate, having to beg their bread in empty places. We pray that the extortioner would come back at them, catching them in their plots, and taking all that they have. May strangers and aliens pillage them and leave them with nothing. We pray that when this happens, and Your hand is evident, that no one would show mercy, and that no kindness would be extended to his fatherless children. Cut off his posterity; may his name and his line come to nothing. Recall how sinful his father was, and call up again the sins of his mother. May their sins come before Your throne continually so that their name may be blotted out, and remembered on the earth no more.

We ask for this because he is merciless. He loved to kick the poor and downtrodden, and sought to kill the broken-hearted. He loved cursing, and so give him that cursing. He detested blessing, so let blessing remain far away from him. He would put on curses like a comfortable coat; let those curses of his seep into him deeply. Tie those curses around him permanently. Let this be the clothing of all our enemies.

Let them curse, so long as You bless. When they get up in the morning, and hear of the blessings You have bestowed on us, let them be greatly ashamed. Let confusion cover over them completely, as though it were a mantle. I pray that You stand at our right hand, and that You would always save us from those who would condemn our souls.

We offer this pray to You in the righteous and holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and amen.

The Casual Imperative

“Casualness is proper at times, but the trouble is we have made it a fetish. Whether shopping or going to school or even to church, we take too literally the invitation of the second-class hotel, ‘Come as you are.’ And the sloppier we come, the sloppier we tend to act. A slouch in the body is a pretty good sign of a slouching mind” (Richard Taylor, A Return to Christian Culture, p. 60).

Civilized Murder

[Speaking of those who want to kill Jesus in John 8] “But their murderousness is not simply moral perversion. it is fundamental. It is anthropological. It is structural. It is the ordering principle of culture, ‘hidden since the foundation of the world’” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 222).

Old Flat Top, Grooving Up Slowly

I have just a few random comments, public-service-announcement-wise. I put them under this category because it does relate to a couple of them, but taking one thing with another, this is just a mishmash. Besides, I need something random to go with the title.

1. Happy Thanksgiving. Take great care to eat too much, but not way too much. God is great, God is good.

2. Some have commented to me about the torrent of posts that sometimes appear in this space, and I believe they have been concerned about whether I am spending every waking hour typing like a madman. No, not at all. I have only had a blog for a couple years, but I have had a computer for many years. Much of what I post here has been hauled out of my computer archives, lightly edited, given a brief week or so in the cyber-sunlight, blinking, and then sent off to my blog basement archives where you can find them if you want.

3. A lot of people come through here (between three and four thousand distinct visitors a day), and about twenty percent of you are new arrivals. “What’s all this?” I can hear you saying amongst yourselves. Well, there is a lot going on here in Moscow, and we think it represents a vibrant cluster of ministries, and we are very grateful for the grace of God to us. Please check out all the links, like this one or that one. But we should also let you know that there is, ahem, an alternative view out there. If you do a google search on “Doug Wilson psychopath” or anything like that, you should get both the drift and the gist. Now I don’t think this is true or anything, but everybody should still be careful because that’s just what a psychopath would say. Can’t be too careful these days.

4. The great ideological battle of the 20th century was the Cold War — Marxism versus liberal democracy. In my view, these two great but exhausted secularisms have been replaced in the arena. The great theological battle over the course of the next century will be between the Christian faith and Islam. If you want to get a sense of the gathering forces, take a look here, here, and here. The comprehensiveness of Islam is one of its greatest strengths, and piecemeal Christianity isn’t going to be able to cut it. But a comprehensive approach to the Christian faith (undertaken in a trinitarian way, without aping Islam) has what it will take. It is the only faith that has what it will take. But the old piecemeal Christianity is still seriously entrenched in the evangelical church, and arguing for the “whole deal” will rapidly earn you some opposition, along with categorization as a racist, pig-dog, psycopathic, federal-vision type.

5. A blog is a tool, and not a place for preening. I know that some have wondered about the recycling of quotes from my books, but this is not being done because I like hearing myself talk. The point of being a preacher and teacher is to get the word out. The early disciples were accused of just this, but they were not being accused of being narcissists. “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine” (Acts 5:27b-28).

6. No blogging tomorrow — just preparing, watching football, fellowship, eating and rejoicing. My wife, a pearl among women, is cooking a manifesto for the ages. How’s that for a metaphor? We are of course having family and friends, not quite sure how many. I picked up the tables this morning, and the spread will be twenty feet long, and a separate table groaning nearby with all the food on it. Nancy is cooking a turkey and a ham, and part of another turkey, and potatoes, and gravy, and green beans with pistachios in them, glazed rolls, honey butter, stuffing, and, as the translators of the King James would put it, divers pies. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Happy Thanksgiving!

Spiritual Disciplines in Narnia

The topic before us now is “spiritual disciplines” in the Narnia stories, and I have to begin by explaining the topic perhaps a little more than some of the others. Spiritual disciplines are those practices which should be practiced on a daily basis, so that they become habitual, with the result that you are prepared when the great moment of testing comes. And, if you have been reading the right kind of stories, you know that it always comes. For example, in The Magician’s Nephew, we see that Digory been given a good moral upbringing, and this was an important part of why he was able to withstand the temptation he faced. “Things like Do Not Steal were, I think, hammered into boys’ heads a good deal harder in those days than they are now” (p. 174).


Some of the spiritual disciplines we practice would be saying our prayers, Bible reading, coming to worship and the Lord’s Supper, and so on. These practices are used by God to help to shape and mold us into a certain kind of person. Although much of it looks different from our world, we learn quite a bit about this principle in the Narnia stories.


For example, we also learn about prayer in The Magician’s Nephewr. What does Fledge teach the children about prayer? “‘I’ve no doubt he would,’ said the Horse (still with his mouth full). ‘But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked’” (p. 163). In other words, we don’t pray to God because He needs to be informed; we do it because we need to know that He is the source of all our blessings.


Now of course, when we are talking about spiritual disciplines, we will spend most of our time talking about The Silver Chair, because this is one of the main themese of that book. For example, how does Aslan promise to guide Jill while she is down in Narnia? “‘I will tell you, Child,’ said the Lion. ‘These are the signs by which I will guide you’” (p. 25). He impresses upon her how very important this all is. “‘But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night’” (p. 27). This language has strong echoes of what the Bible says in Deuteronomy. In that book, God’s people are told to teach their children the law of God when they rise up, when they lie down, and when they walk along the road (Dt. 6:4-9). God wants us to learn certain things by repetition.


The signs look one way, but they are helpful in quite another way. This is why Aslan tells Jill about something odd with the signs. “‘And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters . . .’” (p. 27). It is the same with the grace and wisdom that we receive through God’s means of grace here. The way God blesses us through them is not necessarily what we were “thinking about” when we were going through them. We might not “see the point” when we are reading our Bibles, or coming to the Lord’s Table. But the important thing to remember is that God sees the point, and He uses what He has promised to use when we need His grace.


But even though remembering and following the signs is very important, what goes wrong in Narnia? “‘Oh, shut up,’ said Jill impatiently. ‘It’s far worse than you think. We’ve muffed the first Sign.’ Of course Scrubb did not understand this” (p. 45). The missing of the first sign seems like an honest mistake. But things continue to slip away from them, even though Puddleglum was suspicious in the right way about Harfang. “‘. . . and that, anyway, Aslan’s signs had said nothing about staying with giants, gentle or otherwise’” (pp. 91-92). But after the Green Lady spoke to them about Harfang, what did they forget? “They never talked about Aslan, or even about the lost prince, now. And Jill gave up her habit of repeating the signs over to herself every night and morning” (pp. 92-93). And because one thing can’t leave without being replaced by something else, what effect this this have? Well, it filled their minds with Harfang. And so what did thinking about Harfang do? “. . . it really made them more sorry for themselves and more grumpy and snappy with each other and with Puddleglum” (p. 93).


And then, of course, after they were caught up in this sin, what does Puddleglum ask about? “‘Are you still sure of those signs, Pole? What’s the one we ought to be after now?’ ‘Oh, come on! Bother the signs,’ said Pole. ‘Something about someone mentioning Aslan’s name, I think. But I’m jolly well not going to give a recitation here.’ As you see, she had gotten the order wrong. That was because she had given up saying the signs over every night” (p. 101). Instead of thinking about the task that Aslan had given them to do, what filled their thoughts? “They were thinking of baths and beds and hot drinks . . .” (p. 102). We will either think about what Aslan wants us to think about, or we will think about what the Witch wants us to think about.


From Harfang, what did they see in the morning? “. . . it could not be mistaken for anything but the ruins of a gigantic city” (p. 118). And words from an old inscription spelled out the phrase “under me.” So what would have happened if they had been paying attention to the signs? “We’d have gotten down under those paving stones somehow or other. Aslan’s instructions always work; there are no exceptions. But how to do it now—that’s another matter” (p. 121).


Later, when they escaped from Harfang, and got under the old city, what was the one bright spot? “‘We’re back on the right lines. We were to go under the Ruined City, and we are under it. We’re following the instructions again’” (p. 148).


The last sign is the one sign that they get right. And notice that Aslan forgave them and helped them even though they had muffed the earlier signs. When the conditions of the last sign are met, what do they decide to do? “On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them?” (p. 167). And why do they obey? What is their thinking about it? “‘You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do’” (p. 167). And this is one of the great principles involved in the spiritual disciples. God doesn’t tell us what is going to happen. He tells us what to do, and when the time comes, we know what to do.


There is a right way to understand the spiritual disciplines but, not surprisingly, there is a wrong way to approach them as well. There are unfortunately many Christians who think that God wants them to avoid certain things just to avoid them, even though God has said nothing to us about avoiding them. This kind of spiritual discipline has a name in our world—it is called pietism or legalism—it is as though Jill made up her own “signs” to repeat to herself every night. Often these made-up disciplines can be very strict, killjoy disciplines. In Prince Caspian, we see that the harsh dwarf Nikabrik has a course of life that helps him to be harsh. These are spiritual disciplines, only turned around. For example, “Nikabrik was not a smoker” (p. 80) And Lewis also makes a point of showing that Nikibrik will not dance. “Only Nikabrik stayed where he was, looking on in silence” (p. 82).


In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we see the same kind of thing with Eustace’s parents. What kind of people were they? “They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes” (p. 3). And in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what does the Witch think about a Christmas banquet? “‘Speak, vermin!’ she said again. ‘Or do you want my dwarf to find you a tongue with his whip? What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence? Where did you get all these things?’” (p. 115).


Just because something is strict does not mean that it is biblical. In fact, if it is harsh in the way these examples illustrate, we can be sure that Aslan has nothing to do with it.


When we accept discipline, even discipline that is appropriate, there is still a way of doing it that misses the point. For example, what kind of student had Eustace been? “. . . for though he didn’t care much about any subject for its own sake, he cared a great deal about marks and would even go to people and say, ‘I got so much. What did you get?’” (p. 30). And when people like Eustace (before he was “undragoned”) grow up, they frequently find themselves in government offices, trying to discipline others. And, when they do, they still miss the point. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, how does Gumpas the governor miss the point? “They lifted it, and flung it on one side of the hall where it rolled over, scattering a cascade of letters, dossiers, inkpots, pens, sealing-wax and documents” (p. 56). He thought the point of government was to get papers from one side of his desk to the other side. But he had forgotten the reason for it all.


The New Testament teaches us that participation in the Lord’s Table and participation with the table of demons is fundamentally inconsistent. God disciplines us by calling us away from the table of sin to sit down at His table. Not surprisingly, we find that there are two kinds of tables in Narnia as well. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, what is Aslan’s Table like? “There were flagons of gold and silver and curiously-wrought glass; and the smell of the fruit and the wine blew toward them like a promise of all happiness” (p. 193).


In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what is the Witch’s table like? What does Edmund ask for? “‘Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty,’ said Edmund” (p. 36). And how did it taste? “. . . and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious” (p. 37). But even though it tasted wonderful, what did the Turkish Delight do to him? ” . . . and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive” (p. 37). What was the nature of the Turkish Delight? “. . . for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves” (p. 38).


Whenever we talk about spiritual discipline, we must never forget grace and forgiveness. That is what we are being disciplined in. In The Silver Chair, we saw that Aslan was forgiving, despite them having muffed most of the signs. But what about people who muff them all? In The Last Battle, what was odd about some of those who came in to the true Narnia through the Stable Door? “There were some queer specimens among them. Eustace even recognized one of those very Dwarfs who had helped to shoot the Horses. But he had no time to wonder about that sort of thing (and anyway it was no business of his) for a great joy put everything else out of his head” (p. 176).


Because we are being disciplined in grace, we don’t have to worry that God’s disciplines will somehow crush us. We sometimes feel that way, but this is before we have grown up into the discipline, before we have gotten used to. Discipline and more discipline actually means grace and more grace. In The Horse and His Boy, Shasta learned something very important about discipline. What do they do to you when you finish the very hard work of fourth grade? Why, they put you in fifth grade! Shasta was exhausted, and had done a very courageous thing. What was the immediate reward for his courage? “He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one” (p. 146).


And what wise directions are given him by the Hermit? “I know by my art that you will find King Lune straight ahead. But run, run: always run” (p. 146).

Partaking of Life

When the Lord established this meal, He intended for His people to proclaim His death until He comes again. And this is what we are doing. The death of Jesus is the new testament; we say this as a means of shorthand—we do not exclude the resurrection and ascension of Christ, but rather speak of the whole in terms of one of the more striking parts.

Through the death of Jesus, we come to life. Of course, more precisely, through the death of Jesus we die, and through the new life of Jesus we walk in newness of live. Strictly speaking, Jesus did not die so that we might live. He died so that we might die. He lives so that we might live.

And so the entire congregation, and not just the preacher, proclaims the death of the Lord as we partake together of this meal. But take note, this Table should not be seen as a Protestant crucifix, with Jesus perpetually dying or everlastingly dead. We partake of the living Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we partake of Christ’s death and resurrection here. We are being knit together with Him, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh.

We are being built up into a new humanity, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. He uses many means to accomplish this, but central among these means are Word and sacrament. The instrument that He gives to us to enable us to receive what He ministers to us through these various means is of course faith. Without such faith, no man can see, still less enter, the kingdom of God.

But objectively this remains the meal of that kingdom. This is the nourishment that is found there. And all who sit down at this Table are proclaiming, by that action, that they believe that Christ died, and that He rose again from the dead. They proclaim the gospel, in other words. So take care that your heart is proclaiming the same thing that your fellowship in the bread and wine is proclaiming. To do otherwise is to trifle with holy things.

Telling the Whole Christmas Story

As we continue to celebrate Advent, a central part of our task is to avoid the common idols of this time of year, and sentimentalism is chief among them. The Christmas story is told in Scripture in some detail, and as we celebrate this story, some of our lapses into idolatry can be identified by what we leave out of it. The slaying of the young boys by Herod in the region of Bethlehem is as much a part of this story as the shepherds, the star, the wise men, and the manger are. Rachel is not comforted, and Ramah weeps for her children.

In leaving this part out of the story, we have a truncated story of a Savior, but no sin. We have a knight, but no dragon. We have a rescue, but no danger. We have, in short, a false and sentimental gospel, filled with treacle.

The story of Christmas is the story of redemption. We come to the story as penitents. We are to understand the depravity of our race, and then marvel at what the angels declared and sang to members of that race. The shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night, and we should realize that this story is one that occurred in the blackness of a spiritual night as well as physical nighttime.

The Savior is born. The king is born. Herod trembles on his throne, as all Herods since that time have done. We are the people of that Savior, we rejoice that God has brought mercy and justice into the world, and we declare that all tyrants must kiss the Son, lest He be angry. This includes the tyranny of our individual sin, and extends up to the tyranny of the principalities and powers. And so we say that it is necessary to humble ourselves, bow down, cover our mouths, repent of our sins. And then we stand up, like a Christian man or woman, boy or girl, equipped by the grace of God to say merry Christmas.

No Problem Passages

“By the grace of the Lord, we must resolve to be faithful to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. From Genesis to Revelation, we must not be embarrassed by any passage of Scripture, and once we have submissively ascertained its meaning through careful and patient grammatical, historical and typological, we must seek to put it into practice the day before yesterday” (Mother Kirk, p. 16).